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Tiny Bladderwort Plant Boasts Incredible Amount of DNA

Feb 24, 2015 03:11 PM EST
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It turns out good things do come in small packages, as shown by the tiny carnivorous bladderwort plant, which boasts an incredible amount of DNA in a remarkably short genome.

Researchers at the University of Buffalo recently sequenced the genome of Utricularia gibba, one of the most common types of bladderworts called the humped bladderwort.

They found that the plant houses roughly 80 million base pairs of DNA - that's six times smaller than the DNA of grapes. And yet, it has more genes than a number of more common plants, including the grape, as well as coffee or papaya plants.

And inside this short genome are the DNA sequences that give the bladderwort its bizarre characteristics. Utricularia doesn't have roots, traps prey with vacuum pressure, and sprouts floating, thread-like branches, all while living in an aquatic environment.

"With a shrunken genome, we might expect to see what I would call a minimal DNA complement: a plant that has relatively few genes - only the ones needed to make a simple plant. But that's not what we see," researcher Victor Albert, who led the study, said in a statement.

Instead, we see a complex, unique plant with a whopping 28,500 genes. In comparison, the grape has about 26,300 genes.

That's because the carnivorous plant experienced rampant DNA deletion, meaning it added and then eliminated genetic material at an extremely fast pace. As a result, the bladderwort has almost no "junk DNA" - DNA that doesn't contain expressed genes - unlike humans, whose genomes are more than 90 percent junk DNA.

"When you have the kind of rampant DNA deletion that we see in the bladderwort, genes that are less important or redundant are easily lost," Albert explained. "The genes that remain - and their functions - are the ones that were able to withstand this deletion pressure, so the selective advantage of having these genes must be pretty high."

"Accordingly," he added, "we found a number of genetic enhancements, like the meat-dissolving enzymes, that make Utricularia distinct from other species."

The findings, published in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution, show that there is so much more to Utricularia than meets the eye.

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